Metropolis

Thea von Harbou

Preview: Issue 1 of 1

CHAPTER I

Now the rumbling of the great organ swelled to a roar, pressing, like a rising giant, against the vaulted ceiling, to burst through it.

Freder bent his head backwards, his wide-open, burning eyes stared unseeingly upward. His hands formed music from the chaos of the notes; struggling with the vibration of the sound and stirring him to his innermost depths.

He was never so near tears in his life and, blissfully helpless, he yielded himself up to the glowing moisture which dazzled him.

Above him, the vault of heaven in lapis lazuli; hovering therein, the twelvefold mystery, the Signs of the Zodiac in gold. Set higher above them, the seven crowned ones: the planets. High above all a silver-shining bevy of stars: the universe.

Before the bedewed eyes of the organ-player, to his music, the stars of heavens began the solemn mighty dance.

The breakers of the notes dissolved the room into nothing. The organ, which Freder played, stood in the middle of the sea.

It was a reef upon which the waves foamed. Carrying crests of froth, they dashed violently onward, and the seventh was always the mightiest.

But high above the sea, which bellowed in the uproar of the waves, the stars of heaven danced the solemn, mighty dance.

Shaken to her core, the old earth started from her sleep. Her torrents dried up; her mountains fell to ruin. From the ripped open depths the fire welled up; The earth burnt with all she bore. The waves of the sea became waves of fire. The organ flared up, a roaring torch of music. The earth, the sea and the hymn-blazing organ crashed in and became ashes.

But high above the deserts and the spaces, to which creation was burnt, the stars of heaven danced the solemn mighty dance.

Then, from the grey, scattered ashes, on trembling wings unspeakably beautiful and solitary, rose a bird with jewelled feathers. It uttered a mournful cry. No bird which ever lived could have mourned so agonisingly.

It hovered above the ashes of the completely ruined earth. It hovered hither and thither, not knowing where to settle. It hovered above the grave of the sea and above the corpse of the earth. Never, since the sinning angel fell from heaven to hell, had the air heard such a cry of despair.

Then, from the solemn mighty dance of the stars, one freed itself and neared the dead earth. Its light was gentler than moonlight and more imperious than the fight of the sun. Among the music of the spheres it was the most heavenly note. It enveloped the mourning bird in its dear light; it was as strong as a deity, crying: "To me...to me!"

Then the jewelled bird left the grave of the sea and earth and gave its sinking wings up to the powerful voice which bore it. Moving in a cradle of light, it swept upwards and sang, becoming a note of the spheres, vanishing into Eternity...

Freder let his fingers slip from the keys. He bent forward and buried his face in his hands. He pressed his eyes until he saw the fiery dance of the stars behind his eyelids. Nothing could help him--nothing. Everywhere, everywhere, in an agonising, blissful omnipresence, stood, in his vision, the one one countenance.

The austere countenance of the virgin, the sweet countenance of the mother--the agony and the desire with which he called and called for the one single vision for which his racked heart had not even a name, except the one, eternal, you...you...you!

He let his hands sink and raised his eyes to the heights of the beautifully vaulted room, in which his organ stood. From the sea-deep blue of the heavens, from the flawless gold of the heavenly bodies, from the mysterious twilight around him, the girl looked at him with the deadly severity of purity, quite maid and mistress, inviolability, graciousness itself, her beautiful brow in the diadem of goodness, her voice, pity, every word a song. Then to turn, and to go, and to vanish--no more to be found. Nowhere, nowhere.

"You--!" cried the man. The captive note struck against the walls, finding no way out.

Now the loneliness was no longer bearable. Freder stood up and opened the windows. The works lay, in quivering brightness, before him. He pressed his eyes closed, standing still, hardly breathing. He felt the proximity of the servants, standing silently, waiting for the command which would permit them to come to life.

There was one among them--Slim, with his courteous face, the expression of which never changed--Freder knew of him: one word to him, and, if the girl still walked on earth with her silent step, then Slim would find her. But one does not set a blood-hound on the track of a sacred, white hind, if one does not want to be cursed, and to be, all' his life long, a miserable, miserable man.

Freder saw, without looking at him, how Slim's eyes were taking stock of him. He knew that the silent creature, ordained, by his father, to be his all-powerful protector, was, at the same time, his keeper. During the fever of nights, bereft of sleep, during the fever of his work, in his work-shop, during the fever when playing his organ, calling upon God, there would be Slim measuring the pulse of the son of his great master. He gave no reports; they were not required of him. But, if the hour should come in which they were demanded of him, he would certainly have a diary of faultless perfection to produce, from the number of steps with which one in torment treads out his loneliness with heavy foot, from minute to minute, to the dropping of a brow into propped up hands, tired with longing.

Could it be possible that this man, who knew everything, knew nothing of her?

Nothing about him betrayed that he was aware of the upheavel in the well-being and disposition of his young master, since that day in the "Club of the Sons." But it was one of the slim, silent one's greatest secrets never to give himself away, and, although he had no entrance to the "Club of the Sons" Freder was by no means sure that the money-backed agent of his father would be turned back by the rules of the club.

He felt himself exposed, unclothed. A cruel brightness, which left nothing concealed, bathed him and everything in his workshop which was almost the most highly situated room in Metropolis.

"I wish to be quite alone," he said softly.

Silently the servants vanished, Slim went...But all these doors, which closed without the least sound, could also, without the least sound, be opened again to the narrowest chink.

His eyes aching, Freder fingered all the doors of his work-room.

A smile, a rather bitter smile, drew down the corners of his mouth. He was a treasure which must be guarded as crown jewels are guarded. The son of a great father, and the only son.

Really the only one--?

Really the only one--?

His thoughts stopped again at the exit of the circuit and the vision was there again and the scene and the event...

The "Club of the Sons" was, perhaps, one of the most beautiful buildings of Metropolis, and that was not so very remarkable. For fathers, for whom every revolution of a machine-wheel spelt gold, had presented this house to their sons. It was more a district than a house. It embraced theatres, picture-palaces, lecture-rooms and a library--In which, every book, printed in all the five continents, was to be found--race tracks and stadium and the famous "Eternal Gardens."

It contained very extensive dwellings for the young sons of indulgent fathers and it contained the dwellings of faultless male servants and handsome, well-trained female servants for whose training more time was requisite than for the development of new species of orchids.

Their chief task consisted in nothing but, at all times, to appear delightful and to be incapriciously cheerful; and, with their bewildering costume, their painted faces, and their eye-masks, surmounted by snow-white wigs and fragrant as flowers, they resembled delicate dolls of porcelain and brocade, devised by a master-hand, not purchaseable but rather delightful presents.

Freder was but a rare visitant to the "Club of the Sons." He preferred his work-shop and the starry chapel in which this organ stood. But when once the desire took him to fling himself into the radiant joyousness of the stadium competitions he was the most radiant and joyous of all, playing on from victory to victory with the laugh of a young god.

On that day too...on that day too.

Still tingling from the icy coolness of falling water, every muscle still quivering in the intoxication of victory he had lain, stretched out, slender, panting, smiling, drunken, beside himself, almost insane with joy. The milk-coloured glass ceiling above the Eternal Gardens was an opal in the light which bathed it. Loving little women attended him, waiting roguishly and jealously, from whose white hands, from whose fine finger-tips he would eat the fruits he desired.

One was standing aside, mixing him a drink. From hip to knee billowed sparkling brocade. Slender, bare legs held proudly together, she stood, like ivory, in purple, peaked shoes. Her gleaming body rose, delicately, from her hips and--she was not aware of it--quivered in the same rhythm as did the man's chest in exhaling his sweet-rising breath. Carefully did the little painted face under the eye-mask watch the work of her careful hands.

Her mouth was not rouged, but yet was pomegranate red. And she smiled so unselfconsciously down at the beverage that it caused the other girls to laugh aloud.

Infected, Freder also began to laugh. But the glee of the maidens swelled to a storm as she who was mixing the drink, not knowing why they were laughing, became suffused with a blush of confusion, from her pomegranate-hued mouth to her lustrous hips. The laughter induced the friends, for no reason, only because they were young and carefree, to join in the cheerful sound. Like a joyously ringing rainbow, peal upon peal of laughter arched itself gaily above the young people.

Then suddenly--suddenly--Freder turned his head. His hands, which were resting on the hips of the drink-mixer, lost hold of her, dropping down by his sides as if dead. The laughter ceased, not one of the friends moved. Not one of the little, brocaded, bare--limbed women moved hand or foot. They stood and looked.

The door of the Eternal Gardens had opened and through the door came a procession of children. They were all holding hands. They had dwarves' faces, grey and ancient. They were little ghost--like skeletons, covered with faded rags and smocks. They had colourless hair and colourless eyes. They walked on emaciated bare feet. Noiselessly they followed their leader.

Their leader was a girl. The austere countenance of the Virgin. The sweet countenance of the mother. She held a skinny child by each hand. Now she stood still, regarding the young men and women one after another, with the deadly severity of purity. She was quite maid and mistress, inviolability--and was, too, graciousness itself, her beautiful brow in the diadem of goodness; her voice, pity; every word a song.

She released the children and stretched forward her hand, motioning towards the friends and saying to the children:

"Look, these are your brothers!"

And, motioning towards the children, she said to the friends:

"Look, these are your brothers!"

She waited. She stood still and her gaze rested upon Freder.

Then the servants came, the door-keepers came. Between these walls of marble and glass, under the opal dome of the Eternal Gardens, there reigned, for a short time, an unprecedented confusion of noise, indignation and embarrassment. The girl appeared still to be waiting. Nobody dared to touch her, though she stood so defenceless, among the grey infant-phantoms, Her eyes rested perpetually on Freder.

Then she took her eyes from his and, stooping a little, took the children's hands again, turned and led the procession out. The door swung to behind her; the servants disappeared with many apologies for not having been able to prevent the occurrence. All was emptiness and silence. Had not each of those before whom the girl had appeared, with her grey procession of children, so large a number of witnesses to the event they would have been inclined to put it down to hallucination.

Near Freder, upon the illuminated mosaic floor, cowered the little drink-mixer, sobbing uncontrolledly.

With a leisurely movement, Freder bent towards her and suddenly twitched the mask, the narrow black mask, from her eyes.

The drink-mixer shrieked out as though overtaken in stark nudity. Her hands flew up, clutching, and remained hanging stiffly in the air.

A little painted face stared, horror-stricken at the man. The eyes, thus exposed, were senseless, quite empty. The little face from which the charm of the mask had been taken away, was quite weird.

Freder dropped the black piece of stuff. The drink-mixer pounced quickly upon it, hiding her face. Freder looked around him.

The Eternal Gardens scintillated. The beautiful beings in it, even if, temporarily, thrown out of balance, shone in their well-cared-for-ness, their cleanly abundance. The odour of freshness, which pervaded everywhere, was like the breath of a dewy garden.

Freder looked down at himself. He wore, as all the youths in the "House of the Sons," the white silk, which they wore but once--the soft, supple shoes, with the noiseless soles.

He looked at his friends. He saw these beings who never wearied, unless from sport--who never sweated, unless from sport--who were never out of breath, unless from sport. Beings requiring their joyous games in order that their food and drink might agree with them, in order to be able, to sleep well and digest easily.

The tables, at which they had all eaten, were laid, as beforehand, with untouched dishes. Wine, golden and purple, embedded in ice or warmth, was there, proffering itself, like the loving little women. Now the music was playing again. It had been silenced when the girlish voice spoke the five soft words:

"Look, these are your brothers!"

And once more, with her eyes resting on Freder:

"Look, these are your brothers!"

As one suffocating, Freder sprang up. The masked women stared at him. He dashed to the door. He ran along passages and down steps. He came to the entrance.

"Who was that girl?"

Perplexed shrugs. Apologies. The occurrence was inexcusable, the servants knew it. Dismissals, in plenty, would be distributed.

The Major Domo was pale with anger.

"I do not wish," said Freder, gazing into space, "that anyone should suffer for what has happened. Nobody is to be dismissed...I do not wish it..."

The Major Domo bowed in silence. He was accustomed to whims in the "Club of the Sons."

"Who is the girl...can nobody tell me?"

"No. Nobody. But if an inquiry is to be made?"

Freder remained silent. He thought of Slim. He shook his head. First slowly, then violently. "No--One does not set a bloodhound on the track of a sacred, white hind."

"Nobody is to inquire about her," he said, tonelessly.

He felt the soulless glance of the strange, hired person upon his face. He felt himself poor and besmirched. In an ill-temper which rendered him as wretched as though he had poison in his veins, he left the club. He walked home as though going into exile. He shut himself up in his workroom and worked. At nights he clung to his instrument and forced the monstrous solitude of Jupiter and Saturn down to him.

Nothing could help him--nothing! In an agonising blissful omnipresence stood, before his vision the one, one countenance; the austere countenance of the virgin, the sweet countenance of the mother.

A voice spoke:

"Look, these are your brothers."

And the glory of the heavens was nothing, and the intoxication of work was nothing. And the conflagration which wiped out the sea could not wipe out the soft voice of the girl:

"Look, these are your brothers!"

My God, my God.

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